Freshman Rep. Cunningham concedes defeat in SC’s 1st
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Two days after his opponent proclaimed victory in South Carolina’s 1st District, freshman U.S. House Rep. Joe Cunningham conceded defeat Friday, saying he was proud of the work he had done in his single term in Congress and pledging to continue to work toward bipartisan progress as a private citizen.
Standing in front of the U.S. Customs House in Charleston, Cunningham told supporters that he had called Republican Nancy Mace to offer support and congratulations.
“She’s now my representative,” Cunningham said. “I’m rooting for her.”
The Associated Press called the race for Mace early Wednesday morning, but Cunningham did not concede, citing scanning issues with absentee ballots in one of the district’s counties. But Mace made a victory speech to supporters later that morning, thanking Cunningham for his service and asking his backers for “a chance to prove to you that I will be a compassionate leader, a good listener, an independent thinker.”
In her victory, Mace, 42, becomes the first Republican woman elected to Congress in South Carolina and only the second-ever woman from the state elected to a full House term, buoyed by Republicans sweeping through a number of races Tuesday, with margins far bigger than in recent years. She told AP that Cunningham called her 15 minutes before his concession speech.
Cunningham’s 2018 flip of the district from red to blue placed the area, which runs from Charleston to Beaufort, in Democratic hands for the first time in decades. It followed a GOP primary in which state Rep. Katie Arrington handed incumbent Mark Sanford -- a political veteran who had served before in the U.S. House and two terms as governor -- his first-ever political loss.
In that general election, Cunningham, 38, ran largely on his opposition to offshore drilling, ultimately winning a narrow victory over Arrington, whom he had portrayed as changing positions on the issue. After that win, Democrats cited an influx of new residents to the area as potentially shifting its demographics, as voters from more liberal parts of the country possibly brought their politics with them.
But the 1st District had been among the most sought after by Republicans, who set it in their sights almost immediately after Cunningham’s victory, setting up a robust “victory program” to recapture the seat.
In office, Cunningham aimed to strike a tone of bipartisanship, deflecting criticism that he would be an ultraliberal by opposing Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid for U.S. House Speaker and, earlier this year, earning a ranking as among the more bipartisan members of Congress.
“I don’t believe that our political opponents are our enemy,” Cunningham said, reiterating that tone Friday. “The enemy is a political culture that seeks to divide us for sport.”
Making no mention of future political aspirations, Cunningham said he’d continue to try to work toward progress saying, “My door is always open.”
But as Cunningham departed the plaza where, three years ago, he had first announced his candidacy, shouts of “2022” erupted from supporters — signaling their eagerness for him to make another run at the seat in two years.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.